The state of Chinatown’s restaurants is a divisive topic. Bores moaning about “inauthentic” Anglo-Chinese pandering are wrong: within an acre space it’s now possible to feast on noodles from Wuhan and Henan, dumplings from Shanghai and Beijing, skewers from Sichuan and Xi’an, and fried chicken from Taiwan. At the same time, there has been a fall from grace for Chinatown’s grander Cantonese restaurants and dim sum parlours, precipitated by shifts in demographics and by rises in rent. Still, the heart of Chinatown remains in those Hong Kong caffs serving cheap dai pai dong style food, and yes, in the Anglo-Chinese shibboleths of crispy aromatic duck and sweet and sour pork which there still is and will always be room for.Read More
Where to Eat in London’s Chinatown
Fried chicken skin dredged in plum and chilli powder, Macau-style pork chops, chubby jiaozi, and more
1. Cafe TPT
A standout among all the Hong Kong-inspired cafes that line the west side of Wardour St, Cafe TPT is a template for how all Chinese restaurants of this type in London can and should be — competent at almost everything and exceptional at a select few standouts. Fatty brisket curry on rice and Singapore noodles, elastic and smoky from the wok, are great options, but it’s the pork chop Macau-style with onions, cheesy bechamel and spoonfuls of chilli oil that is unmissable — a chaise longue of a comfort dish that is best eaten in the early hours of the morning to soak up a Soho night. Open with outdoor seating.
2. Food House
London W1D 5QQ, UK
One of the few restaurants which has benefited from the recent Chinatown development, moving from Charing Cross Road to Gerrard Street’s main drag has propelled Food House into cult status among young Chinese students who take respite from Dover Street Market in red oil noodles. The menu is shared between Sichuan — dry hotpots and whole fish cooked in chilli oil — and heartier central Chinese fare of belt noodles, rou jia mo flatbreads with meat, and skewers. Make sure to bring people: this is one of the few places where dumplings can be ordered by the 30.
3. Old Town 97
Chinatown used to be a village of nighthawks, but now only a smattering of Cantonese cafes still cater towards the late-night revellers and the post-shift chefs. Old Town ‘97 is one of them, still open until 4 a.m., where the food is a compilation of the best midnight snacks. Ho fun in slippery egg sauce, charred and gloopy, sweet salted egg yolk chicken wings, better than average roast meats, and of course LSE rice. This og London off-menu option is eggs, cubed: pork belly in honey and pepper egg sauce, egg fried rice and a fried egg on top.
4. Jen Cafe
London WC2H 7JP, UK
There are about 100 options at this dark green wedge of a cafe, but more precisely there are actually only two: boiled or fried. Ignore the roast meats, ignore the noodles which are instant unless specified otherwise: the only thing to come here for is Beijing-style jiaozi, chubby and crimped, stuffed with pork mince and chives. Boiled they are slippery and glistening, a spartan dumpling showing off that pork. Fried as guo tie, they have crisp and caramelised skins and an irresistible hit from the oil. So, really, there is but one option: Order both.
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5. Good Friend Chicken
The best of Chinatown’s newer wave snack shops, Good Friend is a small shrine to various ways of frying a chicken. Flattened breast as big as a human head? Yes. Small pieces of popcorn chicken? Yes. Stuffed with molten cheese? Double yes. But the best and most evil way is the chicken skin, which absolutely must be consumed within about 10 seconds of exiting the fryer, showered in whatever flavoured powder one desires.
6. Jinli Chinese Restaurant
The best of the new Sichuan restaurants changing the face of Chinatown and introducing central London to bludgeoning chilli heat and ma la. The original location on Leicester St is better than the shiny new one, and it’s best to bring a group: the things to get here are the huge and customisable dry hot pots, whole splayed sea basses atop an unstable island of tofu in an ocean of chilli oil, and the crawfish — red on red on red — in which Sichuan peppercorns are hidden in every crevice.
7. Chuan Chuan Xiang
London WC2H 7JP, UK
For most people this is just known as ‘the skewer place next to Baozi inn” as it doesn’t have an English name; the Mandarin name literally means the People’s Commune Chuan Chuan Xiang — a style of Chengdu skewer based street food. There are baozi here, which are fine, but the skewers are excellent, and come with a proper numbing kick from the malatang. The ones to order? Spam and prawn balls for their texture; chinese leaves, broccoli, and tofu for their ability to soak up the soup.
8. Four Seasons
Still the best siu mei in Chinatown, particularly the duck, whose well rendered thick blanket of fat and sweet marinade ensures queues every night. The Gerrard Street branch is better than the Wardour Street one, but the Little Four Seasons next door is a revealing, small microcosm of Chinatown’s direction, featuring the same roast meats alongside stew-like hotpots in a pivot to capture the new mainland student population.
9. Nusa Dua
London W1D 5EP, UK
A reminder that everything food-wise originates in China, Joy Luck used to be home to one of London’s great ramens — in la mian form — before the immigration raids, and home to one of its great pastas — its Wuhan dry noodles — before its original location shut down. These alkaline noodles, served with sesame paste, chilli oil, chopped chillis, pickles, and two cloves of minced garlic, retain their riotous yet impeccably balanced character at Nusa Dua, where the chefs are residing during the search for a new, permanent restaurant. It’s still easily as good as anything served at Padella or at any of London’s other new wave Italian joints.